THE Papua New Guinea government must get serious about decreasing the number of deaths caused by lifestyle diseases, according to a researcher.
Scientist Andrew Pus conducted research on obesity in Port Moresby and his findings have been made public on the Scientific Research Publishing website.
Mr Pus is from the Western Highlands and holds a master’s degree in health sciences from the Graduate School of Bio-Medical and Health Sciences at Hiroshima University in Japan. His research spanned more than three years and was conducted as part of his graduate requirement.
Obesity accounts for an estimated 2.8 million deaths worldwide and is the fifth leading risk for death according to recent data from the World Health Organisation.
Mr Pus’s survey, Identifying factors of Obesity in Papua New Guinea, was conducted to assess influencing factors and to identify the causes of obesity.
Obesity is a medical condition which contributes to an increase of lifestyle diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure which affect a lot of Papua New Guineans and have claimed many lives.
The good news is that it is preventable.
His findings show that less physical movement, unhealthy diet, cultural values, poor education and social systems all contribute to the condition.
Of all the factors that contribute to obesity and lifestyle diseases, it is vital to point out that our cultural value system plays an important role.
Mr Pus argues that our cultural value system is somehow anchored in the belief that a person who is overweight – with huge protruding stomach and large arms and feet – is wealthy and should be respected, obeyed and seen as a leader in our communities.
However, this belief contributes to the increase of obesity and effects the development of lifestyle diseases.
According to the survey, when realising that being overweight commands respect, more people want to be overweight so they attain that respect from their communities.
He says this is not the right way of thinking. Almost every leader identified as influential is overweight. This confused belief is deeply rooted in our society and that mindset needs to change.
The survey shows that the government needs to do more as its strategies and initiatives are not strong enough to educate and motivate people on the dangers of being overweight.
It suggests that effective coordination should be developed between stakeholders to provide quality education and awareness for the prevention of obesity.
The most common cause of obesity is the excessive intake of food coupled with a lack of physical exercise, although some people are obese as a result of genetic vulnerability, which means it is inherited.
Obesity is no longer considered as a medical condition confined to developed countries but it is now a serious problem in developing countries like PNG.
A report by the Overseas Development Institute in 2008 warned that governments in developing countries are not doing enough to combat the increase of this medical condition.
It stated that excessive consumption of fat and salt is linked to the increase of diseases like cancer, diabetes, heart disease and stroke.
Mr Pus’s survey also confirms that more people in PNG have a tendency to eat food that are high in fat and salt such as is found at countless fast food joints around the country.
His study recommends that further surveys be conducted in other parts of PNG, particularly in rural areas, and that health awareness be increased by engaging schools and churches.
The findings strongly suggest that special attention be given to the increasing occurrence of obesity in developing countries and the development of preventive measures to reduce its rate in PNG.
He said superstition or black magic is often blamed for deaths in PNG but this should not be the case. It is the lifestyle of the person – unhealthy eating habits and insufficient physical exercise – which contributes to the development of lifestyle diseases leading to death.
More awareness should be carried out throughout PNG so people are taught about nutrition and physical exercise beneficial to their health.
Mr Pus said he is willing to partner with other relevant authorities to carry out further research and compile data on obesity as it affects and results in the death of many Papua New Guineans.